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BYRD, Thomas (1836-1919) – Retired farmer and Justice of the Peace

Thomas Byrd, a prominent Aldington resident, whose family had lived in the area for generations, is conspicuous by his absence from A H Savory’s Grain and Chaff from an English Manor.  Byrd and Savory were probably the two most influential men in Aldington in the last quarter of the 19th century.  They lived virtually opposite each other – Byrd at Ivy House (demolished in the 1970s on the site of The Hop Gardens) and Savory across the road at the Manor House – but there was no love lost between the two men.  The following is the only reference to Thomas Byrd in Savory’s book:

The labourer dearly loves a grievance, not exactly for its own sake, but because it affords an interesting topic of conversation.  One autumn, returning from a holiday in the Isle of Wight, I found the whole village agog with the first County Council election.  A magistrate candidate, in the neighbouring village of Broadway, was to be opposed by an Aldington man.  I found a local committee holding excited partisan meetings on behalf of the latter, active canvassing going on, a villager appointed as secretary (always called “seckertary” in these parts), and the election the sole topic of conversation.  The village people, always delighted in the possession of a common enemy and a common cause, were making the election a village affair, as opposed to the village of the other candidate; popular feeling was running very high, Badsey, of course, joining up with Aldington as strong allies.  Some young men had lately been before the magistrates at Evesham, and fined for obstructing the footpath, and the magistrate candidate was selected as the scapegoat for the affront to our united villages.  At the election the Aldington man was returned, and his supporters started with him on a triumphal progress through the constituency.  Of course, they visited Broadway, to crow over the conquered village, but the wind was somewhat taken out of their sails when the defeated candidate at once came forward, shook hands with his opponent, and congratulated him upon his success!  The return journey was not so hilarious; one of the men of Broadway, noticing a string of carts in the procession, conveying sympathisers with the victor, in addition to the owners of the vehicles – thus rendering the latter liable to the carriage duty of 15s each – and strongly resenting the spirit which brought the victorious party to Broadway, sent a telegram to the Superintendent of Police at Evesham, who met the returning procession and took down their names, with the ultimate result of a substantial haul in fines for the excise!

Thomas Byrd was born at Ivy House, Aldington, in 1836, the fourth of seven children of Thomas Byrd, a farmer and major landowner, and his wife, Catherine (née Smith).  In 1866, Thomas married Susan Smith in the Northleach district.  His father had died the year before and, as the eldest surviving son, Thomas inherited the property and land at Aldington, and moved into Ivy House.

Thomas and Susan had three children, Sylvia (1867-1957), Mary (1869-1950) and Thomas (1879-1934).  Thomas remained at Ivy House for the rest of his life although he no longer farmed.  By the time of the 1871 census, although only 35, he was described as a retired farmer.  He had begun selling off farmland which he had inherited.  

Like his grandfather before him, Thomas Byrd was an Overseer for the Poor, representing Aldington, certainly in 1886.  He was also a Surveyor of Roads in 1886, as had been an earlier Thomas Byrd nearly 180 years earlier.  He was a Councillor at Broadway from 1889-1898.  It was the first County Council election to which Savory referred to in his book.

The feud between Savory and Byrd was referred to in the letters of Donald Wasley (1918-2000), who grew up in Aldington:

I remember that my grandfather and my father often spoke of the feud which existed between Thomas Byrd and Arthur Savory, as apparently the Village Street in those days ran along quite near to the front door of the Manor House and the kitchen window.  When Thomas Byrd took his manure wagons along from Ivy House Farm to Sherwood Farm, they went right in front of the Manor House windows and to avoid this nuisance, Arthur Savory asked if Thomas, who was on the Council, would enquire if the road could be diverted.  This was subsequently agreed as long as Savory bore the cost.  He got his men to dig out the new roadway, build the retaining walls on each side, make the old road into a driveway with a turn to the left to face up the street and pave along in front of the dairy to steps leading down towards Chapel Lane.

The land in front of the Manor House was raised and a lawn laid with shrubbery at each end and opposite and next to the copse a tennis court was laid out near the old village pump.  When all this was completed, apparently Thomas Byrd asked Savory if he would as a favour let him clear away a bit of bank and piece of land near the Nut Bush in Chapel Lane so that when his horses pulled the manure wagons from the farm into Chapel Lane, the lead horse would not need to turn so sharp that it ceased to pull before the wagon was on the roadway.  Apparently Savory had agreed to this but when the time came for him to surrender a bit of his land near the Nut Bush, he thought better of it and refused.  They said Thomas Byrd and Arthur Savory never spoke to each other again.  True or false?  Quite feasible when you look at the layout as it is today.

At the time of the 1911 census, Thomas and Susan Byrd were living in separate households in Aldington.  Thomas was alone at Ivy House with one servant, whilst Susan was living in rooms at The Manor; her census form was completed for her by son, Thomas, who appears to have been living at Ivy Cottage.  The couple had divorced, which was still fairly unusual in those days.

Thomas Byrd died at Aldington in 1919.